I am a research assistant. I've helped a PhD student from another department throughout her studies by providing and maintaining human cells for her project. She's now about to published, and I'm not sure she would acknowledge my contribution in her papers. Is it acceptable to remind her to acknowledge me?

Including my name would be good for my future graduate school applications and interviews.

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    Including my name would be good for my future graduate school applications and interviews. No it won’t. Being mentioned in acknowledgements is good for one’s ego, but no one else cares about it. I suppose it might have some value if the research in the paper goes on to win someone a Nobel prize, but it seems like a safe bet that that’s not the situation here. – Dan Romik Aug 29 '18 at 14:19
  • I am acknowledged in a few papers. I do not list these papers as "acknowledged" on my CV. Essentially the only people that know I'm acknowledged on these papers are my mother and my wife. – Vladhagen Aug 29 '18 at 14:49
  • @DanRomik and @ Vladhagen - are you sure that this isn't simply because you're from a different part of academia? (See my answer below for a more detailed argument.) – E.P. Aug 29 '18 at 15:30
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    @DanRomik I mean "I contributed to X project (published in blah blah)" – Azor Ahai -him- Aug 29 '18 at 17:49
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    @DanRomik I dunno, I don't list my acknowledgements or have anything like that on my CV, just thinking about scenarios where it might be more than 0% helpful. – Azor Ahai -him- Aug 29 '18 at 17:53

My suggestion is that you could let her know that you would appreciate an explicit ack and that it would help your future, just as you have done here. Don't state it as a duty (which it probably is) but as a professional curtesy and "boost", which it also is.

You could even write a suggestion of the form of the ack you would like if you would like it to include anything specific rather than just a general statement of thanks. (... who maintained the human cells...).

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    This may be an etiquette thing, but I don't think there is a polite way to ask for acknowledgement, and my answer to the titular question would be No. – Kimball Aug 30 '18 at 5:06

I'm not sure if this is a good idea, but one possibility would be to approach this indirectly by having a meeting with her supervisor, explaining your position and seeing if the supervisor has briefed her on authorship conventions yet. A PhD student won't necessarily be cognisant of the importance of acknowledgements to lab technicians, so this is something her supervisor should be broaching with her anyway. If I were supervising this student I would be happy to intervene subtly in a case like this by suggesting to the student that she give an appropriate acknowledgement to the research assistant on the project. I would also explain to her the hazards that can occur if you submit papers without full acknowledgement of contributors. This is a useful conversation in and of itself.

Of course, it could also backfire if the supervisor takes it the wrong way or thinks you are making a complaint about the student. It would be important to make it clear that you are not complaining, but just trying to be seek an acknowledgement in a tactful manner. Explain that you are uncomfortable asking her directly for an acknowledgement, and you thought it might be helpful for her supervisor to be able to give her advice on when to include another person in authorship or acknowledgement.

Usually in interpersonal issues like this I would suggest talking directly to the person rather than going about things indirectly, but this might be one of those cases where the use of a third-party is helpful, particularly since the supervisor is generally the one to teach a PhD student about issues like this. Anyway, I'm not sure if this is a good idea, but I'm going to put it out there, and hopefully the up- and down-votes on the answer will give some peer feedback.


Acknowledgment on a paper usually brings very little academic gravitas to the acknowledgee. It is not something that can usually be placed on a CV, at least directly. (I.e. no one includes a "I was acknowledged in these papers" section of their CV).

As far as graduate school applications go, listing your work on your CV (e.g. "I worked in Dr. Paul Glennfield's biochemistry lab. We researched mRNA.....") would be wholly appropriate. When I review grad school applications, this would be what I would be looking for. A letter of recommendation from your lab lead (or something equivalent, whoever oversees your work) would verify any contributions for which you could be given an acknowledgement.

In all, while it seems the acknowledgement is certainly deserved, not receiving it will not negatively affect your career or education.


It seems to me that the claims, in the existing answers and comments, that a mention in the acknowledgements never matters, are coming from the perspective of academics who rarely, if ever, cross paths with the hiring of laboratory technicians. I have not done so either, but I would put a hold on that claim until someone with that direct experience does.

In the meantime, though I would advance the claim that a CV entry of the form

Worked in the X laboratory doing Y, which contributed by doing Z to the research reported in the paper W

is a perfectly reasonable way to describe the activity - it's not authorship, but it still accurately describes the work without claiming it - and that if the paper contains an explicit mention in the acknowledgements then that will definitely shore up the claim.

I don't know how this would actually play in a postgraduate admissions panel in a field where research-assistant experience would be considered as a valuable asset, but I wouldn't discount its value without hearing from someone with knowledge of that situation.

(Apologies for the tangential answer, but it seemed preferable to multiple identical replies. As to how you get the acknowledgement to happen, I would recommend a light-touch personal interaction to let them know that you feel that it does impact your future career, and then see how that goes.)

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